tv Dateline NBC NBC July 11, 2011 3:05am-4:00am EDT
he's done. >> an emotional exclusive interview. >> we lost five years that we can never, ever, ever get back. >> with the dad who never gave up. father and son. thanks for joining us. i'm ann curry. we have followed the story of david and shawn goldman from the darkest moments of their separation to their reunion in brazil. but through everything, could father and son pick up where they left off? now david goldman opens up for the first time on how their relationship has changed, the real challenges they face, and what may have been the most rewarding moment for him as a father so far. here's meredith vieira. >> he looked so terrified. a 9-year-old boy at the center of an international fire storm. and when shawn goldman stepped off this plane on christmas eve
2009, five and a half years after his mother kidnapped him and took him to brazil, it was impossible to know what impact the trauma would have on him. >> it would be natural for him to be crying. it would be normal for him to be crying. there's pain hidden in there. >> he was home finally reunited with his dad david goldman who fought so tirelessly to get his child back. but the little 4-year-old boy david had been missing all those years was now so grown up. and his relatives in brazil insisted all along he wanted to stay with them. would this father and son even be able to reconnect? >> shawn felt he was coming home to the enemy. >> what we went through, no parent should ever, ever have to endure. >> for a year and a half they
have been silent. but tonight for the first time since their reunion, david is speaking out. >> i think people are very interested in knowing how shawn is doing. >> he's been through so much. >> you'll find out how the boy caught in the cross hairs of all the controversy is readjusting and why his father still fears he could lose him. >> they're still trying to get him to return to brazil. they're still appealing the decisions that shawn sent home to me, his dad. >> david goldman wanted to have his son with him in the united states. he got it. but about the life he lived in brazil. >> shawn's brazilian family accuses david of cutting them off from shawn saying his human rights are being violated as a result. and tonight his grandmother speaks to dateline for the first time. >> translator: i would like to express my great concern about shawn's emotional state. >> for david who is trying to bond with his little boy again, it's all a painful reminder of
the agony he is so desperate to put behind him. >> stop trying to get control of my child. he's not your son. when does it end? >> it all goes back to 1997 when david was trotting the globe as an international model. he was modelling in milan, italy when he fell in love with bruna who came to study fashion. the couple married two years later, settled in new jersey, and soon welcomed shawn into the world. friends admired the picture-perfect family. >> all three of them were beautiful. they looked like a fairy tale. >> and david formed a tight bond with the son he affectionately called his little buddy. >> what did you guys do together? >> what didn't we do together. we did everything. everything a father and son could do and then some. >> what are you going to do?
>> but everything changed the day david drove bruna and shawn to the newark airport for what was supposed to be a two-week vacation in brazil. >> love, hugs, kisses. we did the thing i love you as we always did as they were walking through the jetway. >> but just days after he landed in brazil, she called david to say she was never coming back. >> our marriage is over. our love affair is over. i decided to stay in brazil. so clear she said this so unemotional. >> stunned, david demanded that bruna returns with shawn. but she refused and had demands. >> to sign away full custody of shawn to her and to never press any criminal charges against her. what? >> when you hung up that phone whab did you do? >> i was shocked.
i just dropped. >> just like that the fairy tale had shattered. and his little boy had disappeared. david hired an attorney who told him bruna was guilty of parental child abduction and a treaty known as the hague requires countries who sign it to promptly return abducted children to their home country. that meant brazil should send shawn back to the u.s. within six weeks and any custody battle would have to take place in a new jersey dort court. as agonizing as it was, he clung to when sean could get on the phone. >> hey, sean. when you guys come back, i'm going to give you the biggest hug and kiss and put you on my shoulders. and we're best friends forever. my heart beats for you. >> dada. i love you forever. >> i love you forever buddy.
we're best friends. who's your best frepd? >> you. >> but instead of returning to the u.s., bruna got a brazilian judge to give her temporary custody of sean. are david got an order demanding sean be returned within 48 hours. bruna ignored the order. and david realized his nightmare was just beginning. coming up, david gets some disturbing phone calls. >> it was a man saying they know where i am. prepare to die. >> when father and son continues. really adds up, leaving behind ground-in dirt and odors that vacuuming alone can't tackle. but with resolve high traffic foam, you can really see the difference. it removes three times more dirt than vacuuming alone. it also neutralizes odors at their source, so your carpets are clean and fresh every step of the way. nothing revives carpets like resolve high traffic foam.
at what point did that word go through your head? my son's been kidnapped? >> it's tough for me to think bruna had kidnapped our own child. >> it was all so hard to comprehend. david barely recognized the woman screaming at him on the phone. >> i don't want to live in new jersey anymore! >> why are you screaming at me? >> i don't want to live in that place! >> david, i bet there are people who watch this and say there's got to be something he's not saying. there's got to be some skeleton in that closet. there's got to be a reason this
woman would go to brazil, take her child, your child, and turn around and call you and say you're out of my life. >> show me. find it. >> even from brazil, bruna continued to tell david he was a great dad. >> you're a wonderful dad and i couldn't have anyone better. >> david felt betrayed and things only got worse. there were frightening phone calls. >> they know where i live. they know where i am. prepare to die. it was very alarming. very alarming. >> then a brazilian court gave bruna permanent custody of sean saying he should stay with his mother. things spiralled out of david's control. for two years his attorneys filed for appeal as a heartbroken dad that missed out on so much of his life. but each decision was in bruna's favor. although she was legally married
in the u.s., she got a brazilian divorce and married a lawyer. >> they're fighting against international child abduction. his father travels to different countries lecturing on the hague convention. you can't make this up. >> david once full of life became subdued. canoeing on then river behind his house, something he loved doing with his son, was almost as painful as going into his bedroom where sean's little things were still exactly the way he left them. >> how much do you miss him? >> i miss him every second of every day. >> and four years after bruna took off with sean, things took another turn. this one startling. bruna was dead. she'd given birth to a baby girl only to die from complications eight hours later. she was 34. david's first thought was of his
little boy. >> my poor son. he just lost his mom. i need to see him. he needs to see me. >> shaken, david immediately called his u.s. and brazilian attorneys. >> both of them said it's over. you should be able to go down there and take him home. >> because you're the only biological parent left. >> yes. >> he learned bruna's new husband had filed for custody of sean. >> how could it be possible that a nonblood person could take custody of my child. >> trips to brazil were futile. he couldn't even visit sean. >> i'm so tired. mentally, physically. >> reporter: frustrated, david's friends created a website called bring sean home to help him. >> his supporters waged war on his the behalf. there's no other way to describe
it. >> reporter: when dateline first broadcast his story, david made a desperate plea. >> who can help me? >> reporter: david's case so infuriated congressman chris smith, he actually traveled to brazil with him speaking out on his behalf. >> the reputation of brazil is on the line here. abductions are serious crimes. >> reporter: with the mounting political pressure, david finally got a break. after four and a half years, he was allowed to visit his son. >> i love you, buddy. you going to flip me? i love you so much. >> reporter: these are david's personal videos of their reunion. >> i ran and picked him up and hugged him. told him i love him and i miss him. sean started calling me dad and
dada. >> reporter: even though sean hadn't seen his dad since he was four years old, it seemed like the bond was still intact. these visits lasted only a few hours and sean seemed confused. >> he asked me how come i haven't been to see him in four years. so i said that the courts were making things very difficult. >> reporter: as david said goodbye, he felt helpless. >> we both just turned and at the same time and our eyes locked. neither of us said a word. >> reporter: time was running out. years of sean's childhood were passing by. with david more determined than ever to get his son home, things were about to reach a boiling point. coming up, in brazil pandemonium breaks out with his child caught in the middle. playing with your friends?h his
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stop. >> reporter: but sean was still in brazil, 4800 miles from new jersey. now in the wake of bruna's sudden death, the demand for brazil to send him home was coming from the highest levels of the u.s. government. >> we want folks to abide by international law. >> reporter: but in brazil, sean's relatives pushed their case. arguing after four years sean was perfectly happy there. they said he especially loved soccer and his grandmother, bruna's mother. and they claimed that bruna's new husband had become as much of a dad as david. >> the attorneys had to define who was the father. either by love or affection. >> sean is my son. he's got my blood running through his veins. >> reporter: then just days after sean's ninth birthday, a brazilian judge issued a ruling
from three psychologists. he said it was urgent for sean to go back to new jersey immediately because his rel stifs were trying to turn him against david. >> you cannot be affectionate. if you do any of these things, you'll never see him again. don't forget sean, he abandoned you. he didn't love you. he's pretending. >> how did you know they said that? >> it was written in the report. >> reporter: he worried his relationship with sean would be too hard to repair. and they took sean to a psychiatric facility where in front of five paid witnesses they had one of their own psychologists question him about where he wanted to live. sean said brazil. congressman chris smith, one of david's strongest supporters was
lifd. >> repeating over and over how he wants to live in brazil has the earmarks and markings of a hostage situation. >> do you see any possibility that sean might have been in a quiet moment come to the conclusion by himself that he wants to be in brazil? >> sno. he's a defenseless helpless innocent victim. he's scared to death he's going to lose the only other people he knows. >> reporter: sean's brazilian family kept things tied up in courts until december of 2009. insisting sean needed to be put on the stand so everyone could hear how happy he was in brazil. their lawyer posed with a poster they say he made himself. >> i want to stay in brazil forever. >> reporter: angry about the court delays, frank loutenburg
blocked a trade. christmas was approaching and the case was a game of international suspense. the whole world anxiously watching to find out if david goldman's son would stay in brazil or go back to new jersey. but finally good news for david. a solid 30-page ruling saying sean must go back to new jersey. the handover took place on christmas eve. by then tensions had escalated to an almost hysterical state. sean's grandparents approached on foot. bruna's brazilian husband came next his arm tightly wrapped around sean. in his bright brazilian shirt, there was no missing 9-year-old sean goldman. people screaming, horns honking, hole continuers circling, police
on guard, he was overwhelmed. >> did it break your heart to see that? >> yes. it was torture. i had to turn away. >> reporter: during all the commotion, david was waiting inside the consulate to finally be reunited with sean. >> and when he saw you and you saw him -- >> he was just saying i'm very hot. >> reporter: and for those first few minutes he just tried to soothe his little boy. >> i just kneeled next to his chair and held his hand. told him how much i loved him. >> reporter: a few hours later they were flying out of brazil on a private plane chartered by nbc. not long after rio vanished under the clouds, sean was sound asleep but his dad couldn't close his eyes. >> my little boy is five feet
away sound asleep, peaceful. it's like a christmas miracle. >> reporter: they were heading home together. but it would turn out the brazilian family still wasn't giving up the fight for sean. and his dad now faced the daunting challenge of trying to overcome five lost years with his little boy. after everything they'd been through, could they reconnect? >> do you worry that there are walls up? >> when father and son continues. "heroes" are only in movies, consider this: over 70% of firefighters are local volunteers... these are our neighbors putting their lives on the line. and when they rely on a battery, there are firefighters everywhere who trust duracell. and now you can join with duracell to help. just buy specially-marked packs & duracell will make a battery donation to local volunteers. these days don't we all need someone to trust...?
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when they first returned to new jersey, everything seemed so surreal. >> we was getting into bed last night and i looked at him and he did one of those. got up and brushed his teeth. so it's nice that he's still a child. and he needs help. and i'm here to give it to him and love every second of it. >> reporter: after being gone for five and a half years, he was david's son rediscovering their house. >> this was the guestroom. >> my playroom. >> reporter: here he was
remembering the tiny teeth marks he left in the wood season banister years ago. >> yeah those are from your teeth. right there. >> reporter: since then, david has kept a low profile shunning the nemedia so he could reconne with sean. >> we had five and a half years to make up. we needed that time to lay low and heal. >> reporter: there was so much to get past. sean had lived in brazil for five years with almost no contact with his dad. his mother passed away. and on the day his brazilian relatives handed him to david, he looked so terrified amidst all the commotion. how does a young boy cope with so much trauma? >> it's amazing how resilient and brave he is. >> i think people are very interested in knowing how sean is doing. >> sean is my special buddy.
we are -- we are father and son again. and every night that i can just give him a kiss on the cheek and pat his head and tuck him in is a miracle and a blessing. i'm sorry. >> that's okay. i know he's about to be 11 in may. >> if you were to see him walk down the street, you would think he's actually a sixth grader because he's about 5'5" now. but you would see him as a regular boy. happy. >> and you're sure he's happy? >> i know he's happy. he's flourishing. he's free. he's safe. he doesn't have the pressure. >> reporter: this is sean today. he's adventurous, playful, full of energy.
he has settled into a routine. >> this morning we got up regular time, had breakfast together. i made his lunch. i pour his bowl of cereal and then make his sandwich and take thoim school. >> reporter: sean can sometimes test his dad's patience. >> who's doing that? >> reporter: and like any kid, he sometimes finds his dad's jokes embarrassing. >> just cut into that. >> okay. >> reporter: still the last year and a half hasn't been without its challenges. >> you said that one of the problems with sean, felt he was coming home to the enemy. >> he had been told i abandoned him, i i didn't love him. america is a terrible place. and he comes home and sees
there's nothing but love and understanding and affection and friends and family. >> reporter: sensitive to sean's confusion, david waited only a few days after they came home to begin weekly meetings with a therapist. >> i don't want him to box thoughts up. that's why we go to therapy. sometimes i'll bring something up even if i know it's making him uncomfortable, i'll still bring it up to get it to express himself. because he does hold some things in. >> do you worry that there are walls up? >> i know there are walls up. i'm always looking to see what's the normal and what's the abduction part of his behavior. >> and you feel 15 months later you're seeing more of the normal? >> i've seen more of the normal. thank god is all i can say. thank god. he wants to be a normal boy. >> reporter: by all accounts, sean is thriving. he's doing well in school. his english which was rusty when
he first arrived from brazil is virtually flawless. he has a puppy named scooter and he loves everything to do with sports and the outdoors. >> he likes to play basketball. he loves anything with the water. he love it is swimming. he loves fishing. he loved this past summer. he had friends over and they were running as fast as they could flying off that dock. i think he might be part eskimo because he loves the snow. he wanted to be in there every day. >> reporter: for david who missed out on so much of his child's childhood, each new first seems like a gift. >> every moment is special. >> even now you would think maybe after 15 months? >> we lost five years that we can never, ever, ever get back. no matter how much we try. and time is short. moments are fleeting. >> reporter: not wanting to forget any of those moments now, david records as much as he can.
like sean experiencing halloween again and the joys of fishing with his dad. sometimes sean turns the camera on david. >> so what do you think about it, dad? >> pretty good. i hope i get a bullseye. >> reporter: their bond seems easy and natural as david encourages his son. >> if you see one too low, take it. take it. and practice your eye. >> reporter: and happily plays the role of parental cheerleader. >> run! yes, yes! >> reporter: but perhaps david's proudest moment came august after sean confessed he didn't know how to ride a bike. >> he would go over to friends' houses and i'd get a call he had a headache, not feeling well. it turned off they were off to ride their bikes and he didn't know how to ride a bike. he was too ashamed and proud and embarrassed to admit that.
>> reporter: so david took sean to a secluded field where he knew no one would see them. >> it was about a hundred degrees. we got in the car, got a case of water. by the end of the day, he rode that bike without my help. we finished most of that case of water. and he was glowing that he could ride his bike now. and i was glowing because it was something that they didn't steal from us. i was able to teach my son how to ride his bike. >> reporter: these days father and son ride side by side. >> so what is he struggling with now emotionally? >> he struggles about -- he doesn't like algebra. really. >> join the club. >> join the club. math was never my greatest subject. but honestly his everyday struggles are that of a regular 10-year-old boy. >> reporter: except that he has
his family in brazil who are still fighting for him in the court angrily arguing they have been separated from his life. >> we don't even know if sean knows that his grandfather is dead. coming up, david opens up about the custody battle that still goes on. and sean's feelings about all he left behind. >> does he ask about his family in brazil? odors... my busy family has them.
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. after all the tense feuding and the bitter war of words, in the end it was sean's grandmother who was the one making a desperate plea. >> she said to me will you allow me to see him? and i looked at her and i said in time we'll arrange that. you'll be able to see him. >> reporter: they were silvana's last words to david as she handed him over. and david said he was determined to keep his promise. >> we landed and here's my phone text your grandma and let her know you're okay. >> despite everything in that battle to get sean, you told her i will not do to you what you have done to me.
so was it your full intention to let him see his grandmother? >> absolutely. >> reporter: still it hasn't been as easy as he hoped. >> sean has been home for almost a year and a half and he's never seen his grandparents. >> reporter: attorney john wolfe represents the grandparents. he says david has done the or sit of what he promised. >> mr. goldman said he would never cut off contact with the grandparents but he has. >> reporter: david says the grandparents have no one to blame but themselves. days after he returned to new jersey with sean, he asked his attorney to reach out to them. >> david had two very important goals. one was to normalize sean's life as much as possible. and that he would have a relationship with his grandparents. >> reporter: allowing the
therapist to dictate the limits of the visits. sean's parents made the flight from brazil to begin discussions with the therapist but they hoped to see sean on that trip. when they didn't, things fell apart. >> translator: i came here to hug my grandson and i'm leafing with an empty hug. i could not see sean. >> we agreed to all sorts of conditions. we agreed to see sean in a supervised setting. we agreed to see sean for an hour. none were accepted. >> reporter: but david said he had a good reason. one condition they wouldn't agree to was to drop all litigation in brazil. both sean's grandmother and joao paulo lins e silva still have cases there. >> they're still trying to get him to return to brazil.
they're still appealing the decision that sean sent home to me. i'll be damned if i'm not going to see my child. >> reporter: until they stop fighting for sean in the courts, he'll never feel comfortable giving them full access. >> do you ever worry that sean's grandmother could get him back? >> you never know. if that decision in brazil gets overturned, sean's basically open game for them to go and attempt to kidnap and bring him back to brazil. that's a big concern of mine. i wouldn't put anything past them. >> reporter: both the grandparents' u.s. and brazil attorneys suggest it's absurd they would try to kidnap sean. but they were so angry about not seeing him, they filed a request for immediate visitation. saying it didn't qualify as an emergency, they denied their request and set a hearing for a later date.
silvana complained to the media that sean's human rights were being violated. things had become ugly all over again. >> the brazilian court was misled. >> reporter: sergio their attorney says sean would never have been sent home in the first place if the courts knew this was how things would play out. >> they took for granted the relationship with the brazilian family would remain intact. >> reporter: she said at times she wasn't sure that sean was still alive. >> silvana had great concern whether he was alive or not. she has reason to be concerned. no contact. no phone contact. no personal contact. no skype contact was allowed with sean. >> reporter: but david says their communication has never been completely cut off. he shared with us e-mails like this one from christmas eve
2010. when sean sent to the grandma along with six photos. her warm response written in portuguese begins with hello my dear grandson. and includes a cheerful request for more photos. >> i just want the whole situation to be resolved in a way that's best for him. >> reporter: speaking to dateline for the first time, she called it tragic that sean is being kept from her half sister. she was born in 2008 shortly before sean's mother bruna died from complications relating to her birth. >> translator: she has the right to live with sean. >> she has the right to be with the brother as much as david goldman has the right to be with his son. >> reporter: for david and his attorneys, it all goes back to the bitter finger pointing that defined the long fight to get sean south of brazil. >> they want to be able to continue this masquerade that
they are victims. >> reporter: after supporting their illegal abduction of sean and fighting to keep him from david after her death, they hardly be shocked he said no visitation. >> their behavior is bad. they're badly behaved people. that child was in brazil because he was kidnapped. >> reporter: in february this year, a new jersey judge issued a harshly worded ruling rejecting the grandparents' request to see sean. they called david's reasons for keeping them away reasonable. when shortly after the ruling on march 21, sean's grandfather died of lung cancer. >> sean's grandmother silvana she complained to the brazilian press that he died with sorrow in his soul because you blocked him from seeing his grandson
before he died. >> you know how sad that really is? if that was truly his dying wish, she prevented it from being fulfilled, not us. >> did sean ask about going to his grandfather's funeral? >> no. >> how did he react when his grandfather passed away? >> he looked at me and said that's sad. i said it is sad. he said do we have to talk about this right now? i said no, we don't. also we decided to send a card. and i also suggested that we should light a candle and speak nice things about his grandfather. and say a prayer. >> does he ask about his family in brazil? >> no, he doesn't. he doesn't. at all. i try to bring it up to him. we've had conversations about his mom even when we're driving
i'll remember a restaurant and say we used to go there as a family and we used to have a nice time. >> you don't want him to forget his mom or his grandparents. >> no. >> well, are you relieved he doesn't bring them snup. >> i can't say that, no. if he said he wants to see them, that's natural. good. so we're working on it. >> reporter: it's hard to gauge what impact the fighting is having on this 10-year-old boy. after so many years away, he's renewed a loving bond with his american grandparents. and has easily fallen back to calling david's dad his pop pop. but renewing a bond with silvana may be challenging. she is appealing the new jersey decision denying visitation and has taken her case in brazil to
the country's minister of human rights who has pledged to intervene. >> the decision in brazil is not final. the decision can be reversed. >> this whole thing is sad and it seems endless. it's sad. coming up, what toll might david's battle with sean's brazilian family take on his son? >> there are moments where there's anger and bitterness. do you worry what his reaction is going to be? >> when father a
>> reporter: it was one of those moments sean will be teasing his father far long time. his dad fumbling with a snapping turtle on the side of the road. >> he's in the middle of the road. he goes with two sticks up to it. >> reporter: father and son are laughing again. and david is so grateful he's written a book called "a father's love: one man's unrelenting battle to bring his son home." he hopes it will help the other parents o struggling to bring their children home. >> people stepped up. people came from all over the world to help and support us. and to disappear into the sunset on one hand would be wonderful, but on the other hand it wouldn't be right. these children and these families are still living it every second of every day. >> but you could have gone back into the recesses and the private life.
you chose to right the book and get involved with helping other children. >> right. they need to come home. we can't let it go to rest. >> it's not just a temporary cause for you. >> no. it can't be. >> what do you think that sean's brazilian family will think of this book? >> they probably won't like it, but it's the truth. >> but the book is tough on them. you're telling your story. and there are moments where there's anger. and there's bitterness. do you worry when sean is ready to read this book what his reaction is going to be? >> i wrote this with the thought that he will read it if he chooses. the book isn't about bashing them. it's about telling the truth. it's about the other children who are still trapped in these countries. >> does he know you wrote this book? did you talk about it before and get his permission? >> we discussed it. >> who picked out the cover picture? >> sean. and it was the perfect picture. i love it.
>> why is it the perfect picture? >> this could be any dad and their son together loving, teaching. our faces aren't sitting there looking into the camera. look at me it's david and sean. it could be any dad. my head is down. so it just shows how connected any father and son could and should be. >> that's very nice. >> reporter: after all those years of lonely agony, david's life is now rich with love. he has a girlfriend wendy who has been a steady source of support as he builds his relationship with sean. >> was that a hard thing for you? to let another woman into your life? >> yeah. but she was very patient and still is. she's great. >> reporter: and her boys, 15-year-old dylan and
12-year-old jesse instantly bonded with sean. >> everyone gets along. it's healthy for sean. and it's healthy for her boys. >> reporter: there are quiet times too. those moments when david still finds it hard to believe sean is really home. fishing on his dock again. >> someday he should write a book when he's old enough. because he'll have a lot to say. >> yours is entitled a father's love. what do you think his would be? >> something like thank god my dad never gave up on me. >> it's interesting you use that as the title for sean's book. because he said that to you and you talk about that in your
book. >> it was one evening when he was going to bed. his eyes were watery and he was sad. he said he missed his mom. so we spoke and i tried to comfort him. and then he called out to me as i was about to turn the light out to leave and i turned around and he just said that he's so glad that i never gave up on him. >> reporter: it was a promise david had made so many times during his long five and a half year battle to get sean back. and now they are together again. idly canoeing on the river behind their house just like they used to do so many years ago. >> is that canoe in a way a symbol for you? >> it's one of our special father and son moments. ♪